The U.S. National Junior Team’s preliminary roster has already been through two days of two-a-day practices and will be on the ice for two hours today beginning at 11 a.m. MST.
After Jason Zucker and Kevin Gravel, who were both still with their respective college clubs until Sunday, arrived in Camrose, the last man left to join the group was Justin Faulk.
I exchanged a few text messages with a source in regards to Faulk earlier today and tweeted this:
A short time later, Canes beat writer Chip Alexander got the official word from Canes GM Jim Rutherford and tweeted this:
Alexander also blogged about this development.
Later, the Hurricanes released the following statement:
“Justin has already become an integral part of our team at a very young age,” said Rutherford. “He had the experience of representing the United States at the World Junior Championship last year, winning a bronze medal in Buffalo. We believe it is in the best interest of our organization and his development for him to remain with the Carolina Hurricanes this year.”
And that’s that. Justin Faulk is not going to be part of Team USA at the World Junior Championship. So what does it mean for the American outfit?
The loss is significant, but not unexpected. The way Faulk has played in Carolina made his availability unlikely, but nonetheless this one will sting a little bit.
Had Faulk been released he would have played a ton of minutes, quarterbacked the power play and provided a confident, physical rearguard who can get pucks to the net. So while Team USA’s deep talent pool on the back end got a little less deep, there’s still enough talent to soften the blow.
There are now nine players vying for seven spots on Team USA’s blue line, which should heat up the competition.
The defense group has been playing very well in camp according to a Team USA source. The mix of size and skill on the back end among the 1992-born players is just what they were looking for. Meanwhile, 1994-born Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba have been “showing they belong.”
The source also said that the final two cuts on the back end will be tough and it’s a pretty good problem to have.
Here are some of my own thoughts on what this development could mean for Team USA’s blue line:
First off, Jon Merrill just got moved from probable lock to stone-cold lock. I didn’t think he would be left out anyway, but without Faulk, Merrill’s skill set is hugely important for Team USA.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary could be 1994-born Jacob Trouba. The under-age defenseman has one less older player to out-perform in camp. Additionally, Trouba has a very similar game to Faulk, though less polished. He provides a physical presence, a pro-level shot and good offensive ability. Of the blue liners, Trouba is one of the better all-around skaters as well. As my source indicated, the youngster is showing he belongs. Will it be enough to get him on the final roster?
This recent development could also be good news for Adam Clendening, who is undoubtedly the best puck mover among Team USA’s candidates. With Faulk out of the picture, Clendening could play more of a key role on Team USA’s power play in Alberta. His puck-moving skills just got a heck of a lot more indispensable.
With the roster announcement scheduled for Thursday morning, the race for the last two defense spots just got a lot more heated. These final cuts have become much more difficult knowing that Faulk will be impossible to fully replace.
Team USA will play Russia in exhibition Tuesday night. Expect to learn a lot about Team USA and this defensive group in that contest. Russia has a way of exploiting deficiencies and also possess a very fast and skilled team. Those who rise to the occasion against such a solid opponent will give themselves a great opportunity to make the final U.S. roster, while those that stumble have a lot of ground to cover in a very short amount of time.
We’ll have a full preview of that exhibition contest tomorrow on USofH, as well as some additional camp updates and links.